Good dads suck at math

RELATIONSHIPS | 6 mins

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Dude,

When you told me you were going to be a father, I was over the moon. Becoming a dad has been one of the most beautiful, challenging, enlightening, maddening, heart-filling experiences of my entire life. The little buggers will make you pull your hair out, and you’ll be glad to do it just to hear them laugh.

I’m three kids in at this point. And with this one being your first, you asked for advice. Without thinking, my gut-check response was: “Sleep while you can.” We laughed. And then the conversation took another turn.

I’ve been thinking about what I said. And I need to come clean—that’s horrible advice. Seriously. Don’t do that. It won’t help you now, and it certainly won’t serve you later. In the months to come, as you prepare to become a father, here’s what you should do.

Don’t Sleep While You Can

If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t come to the starting line having never run a mile in your life. And sleep isn’t something you can bank now to use later. Here’s the hard news: When the kiddo gets here, sleep is heading for the hills. But here’s the deal; you know it’s coming—the sleepless nights, the moments of sleep-deprived insanity. So discipline yourself now. Go to bed late. Get up early. When you wake up in the middle of the night, go start the laundry or unload the dishwasher. Practice living on less now, and when sleep disappears, you’ll be less of a bear. Discipline sucks. But it pays later. Trust me.

Serve Your Spouse

Thank God we’re dudes. If a child were growing inside me, I’d be so overcome with fear I’d be unable to function. Keep that in mind when your lovely bride gets attitude, snaps at you, or seems less patient/fun/engaged than normal. There’s a human sucking her life away. Kinda literally. Kinda. So practice serving her. Put her first. Hold her hair during the moments of morning sickness. Make breakfast before you go to work. Run the vacuum so she can sit on the couch. Go get Chinese food. And when you get back and the smell makes her nauseous, eat it in the car while you go get her a waffle and eggs. With extra maple syrup. Two words: foot massage. Every night? Every night.

Establish Rhythms, But Stay Flexible

While you serve your spouse, keep an eye on your own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. You aren’t a robot. You can’t give and give and give without receiving. So establish rhythms that bring you life. Bourbon on the front porch. Basketball on Tuesday after work. Coffee and donuts on Thursday morning. An hour of reading before bed. Whatever it is for you, do it. Know that schedules will get crazy when the little one gets here, so avoid the temptation to be dogmatic. But guard some time for yourself. It will change the way you interact with everyone else. And help your wife establish some rhythms that bring her life, too. But not bourbon. At least, not until after the birth.

Get Help

Don’t try to do it all alone. You can’t. And you shouldn’t even try. Start identifying help now. Grandma and Grandpa—check. That couple from church who have raised some awesome kids themselves—check. A roster of dependable college students looking to make some babysitting money—check. You’ll need people to vent to, people to ask questions of, and people to babysit so you can take your wife out for pad thai and the new Ryan Gosling movie (see point #2). Get really good at asking for help. And cast a wide net. It takes a village. A really, really big one.

Flunk Math

The worst thing you can do when the baby arrives is excel at math. Stop keeping tabs on who changed the most poopy diapers this week, who has the longest streak of middle-of-the-night feedings, and how many times you’ve had to make twilight runs to Walgreens. Comparison is always a losing game. You will lose. And so will your wife. And ultimately, your child will as well. So don’t engage it. It will take a level of faith to trust that both you and your wife are giving this little bundle of joy all you’ve got. But accept it. Believe it. And engage it. And push the tally marks away.

Be Reproducible

I know what you’re thinking: “I already did that. That’s why you’re writing this piece right now.” I’m worried less about your bedroom and more about your life outside it. We all know parents living vicariously through their children. But reality actually works in reverse. Your child will learn to live through you. The way you engage your spouse, your job, your chores, your money, your entertainment, your principles, and your vices—it will all inform the way your child learns to live. So now is the time to squash those bad habits. They aren’t inconsequential anymore. Back to point #1—discipline is your friend. You must learn to live the kind of life you want your child to live. Because, ready or not, you will be their primary teacher.

Pray for me when you’re up in the middle of the night doing the dishes. And I’ll pray for you when I’m up feeding the little one. And in a few months, when our roles are reversed, keep at it. I will, too. Our villages need each other.

I uncovered all this through trial, error, and lots of failure. Don’t be afraid to stumble. You will. But I believe in you. And I believe in the process of learning, of baby steps, and of grace when you mess one (or all of these) up.

Above all else, I believe in the power of a father. You’re going to be great.

Written by Caleb Mathis on May 29, 2018